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Canada mulls crackdown on social media firms to curb election meddling

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By Reuters
Canada mulls crackdown on social media firms to curb election meddling
FILE PHOTO: Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a Liberal Party caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo   -   Copyright  Chris Wattie(Reuters)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada may have to crack down on the world’s major social media companies with new regulations to combat potential foreign meddling in this October’s election, the cabinet minister in charge of ensuring a fair vote said on Monday.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould spoke shortly after one of Canada’s two spy agencies said it was very likely foreign actors will try to interfere in the election.

Her comments also came after Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week she was “very concerned” about possible Russian meddling in the voting and that there “have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy.”

Gould said Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google should help safeguard the election by promoting transparency, authenticity, and integrity on their platforms. But she added that she had been disappointed by the slowness of talks with the companies.

The safeguards should include more efforts to counter malicious cyber activity, such as the spread of disinformation, Gould said.

“The platforms feel this is something they should be doing on their own and I don’t have the confidence that they’re disclosing everything with us,” she told a news conference.

Asked whether the firms should be regulated to limit the threat posed by disinformation and a possible foreign cyber campaign to sway the election, she replied: “It’s something we are looking at very closely”. She noted that Britain had proposed a social media regulator on Monday.

Twitter declined to comment. Facebook and Google were not immediately available for comment.

Last month Google said it would ban political advertising on its platform before the election.

Facebook has said it would require advertisers to confirm their identities before running election-related material.

“Facebook has perhaps taken a few more steps than Google or Twitter but it’s still not sufficient. I think there is much more they could do … until they think they are going to be forced to make those changes I don’t think they will willingly do it and I think that’s disappointing,” said Gould.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week called for regulators to play a “more active role” in establishing rules that govern the internet.

Earlier on Monday, the Communications Signals Establishment (CSE), the agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence and protecting government electronic information and communication networks, issued a report on the potential hazards around October’s election. The report did refer to any specific threat from Russia.

U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations denied by Moscow.

“It is very likely that Canadian voters will encounter foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the 2019 general election,” said the CSE, which noted democratic governments around the world were experiencing more cyberattacks.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown)